I want to wish you all a Happy Fourth of July. I am glad we are able to celebrate in more of the usual ways even though the improvements in our conditions did not happen soon enough for us to order the fireworks for this year.
We have come a long way and we have done this together.
Nearly 80 percent of eligible residents—those who are 12 and older—have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, which makes us No. 1 in the nation for counties with populations of more than 300,000 residents. In addition, 98 percent of residents 65 and older are vaccinated and 88 percent of residents 18 or older are vaccinated. Our Latino population has reached parity in vaccination rates with our White population. That is in no small part because of an effort we put together with Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar, our community partners. In fact, they just received an Emmy for an Outstanding Public Service Announcement Campaign. This work, and the progress we are making in the Black community, is making a difference. We will continue our work until we have vaccinated everyone we possibly can. I cannot thank all of you enough for your contributions to making us safe.
Rethinking public safety
Since my first year as County Executive, I have been focused on rethinking how we do policing in the County. One of my first actions was to hold a public forum to hear from the community about how people were experiencing policing here. One result of the forum was directing the Police Department to collect a broader, more detailed set of data to help us make needed changes. We also added money to our budget to allow us to bring in an outside consultant to work on a full evaluation of this work. We did this before George Floyd was murdered because our own issues demonstrated the need to do this. At the time we launched this initiative, the County, and the nation, were beginning to amplify our focus on incidents involving police use of force, racial and social injustices and the structure and funding of police
Our goal is to build a Police Department that the community has confidence in and protects and serves everyone equitably—no matter where they live.
One aspect of our “Reimagining Public Safety” Initiative that I felt was essential to us making real change was to have an independent audit conducted of the Police Department.
I wanted a comprehensive evaluation that included a review of policies, procedures and practices to identify, evaluate and recommend structural and systemic changes necessary to achieve reform and innovation.
We partnered with Effective Law Enforcement for All, a well-known and experienced organization to assist us in this important evaluation.
After months of evaluation, this week we released the preliminary observations and recommendations of the audit report and work will continue over the next couple of months.
The audit evaluated the Police Department’s leadership, education, accountability and practices. The preliminary findings of the audit make recommendations to change the organizational structure of the Montgomery County Police Department. This covers its internal affairs system including approaches to handling uses of force, mental health response, recruitment, hiring and assessment of the training academy. This report is thoughtful and forward-thinking and brings a deeper look into the how and why of the department policy. It also highlights areas where we need to improve. Rather than reacting to individual incidents, and not getting to the core of the problems, this report identifies the underlying training and policies that do not serve us well.
The next step in the process to finalize the report is to share the findings and recommendations with the community. Next week, I am hosting a community forum where I will join Police Chief Marcus Jones and others to listen to residents’ feedback. For more information on the preliminary audit recommendation and the community forum, I encourage you to participate. You can register for the forum here.
Montgomery County has a good Police Department, but even so, any good organization has to look at itself and determine what changes need to be made to meet current and future challenges. That is what this audit is about—the future.
Celebrating the $15 minimum wage
This week, the minimum wage in Montgomery County increased to $15 an hour for businesses with 51 employees or more. The minimum wage increased, at other intervals, for smaller-sized businesses as well. The increases will be a tremendous help to workers and their families. Over the last year, we have seen how important frontline workers are in our daily lives. The increase in the minimum wage recognizes the importance of their work and skill, but more importantly, the need to pay people a living wage.
I have long been involved in this fight for people who work hard every day to provide for their families in one of the most expensive counties in the country. As a County Councilmember, I sponsored two pieces of legislation to raise the minimum wage, first to $11.50 and then to $15. When I began this effort, I joined with Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C., so that there would be a regional minimum wage. For the second bill, Washington, D.C. had already moved to $15 and Prince George’s was not quite ready. But we knew it was time and the bill ultimately passed unanimously.Now we see the minimum wage going to $15 around the region and the country. That is good for Montgomery County and the region.
I am proud that Montgomery County has been at the forefront of fighting for increases to the minimum wage. This week’s change to $15 an hour for employers with 51 or more employees; $14 for employers with 11 to 50 employees; and $13.50 for small employers with 10 or fewer employees is a milestone we should celebrate.
But we can’t stop here. I will continue to work with our Council, State and Congressional elected officials, our unions and community partners to reignite efforts on behalf of our workforce. The pandemic has taught us how essential these employees are and that everyone deserves a living wage. An honest day’s work should beget an honest day’s pay. Individuals and families need to be able to support themselves, have access to decent housing and healthcare and be free of worrying about whether or not they will have a roof over their heads next month.
Premature end to Federal unemployment benefits
Along the same lines of needing to be free of worrying about shelter, I continue to urge Governor Hogan to reverse his decision to prematurely end Federal unemployment benefits that would go to Maryland residents. These benefits are the additional $300 provided by the Federal government to supplement State unemployment, and many people are in desperate need. There is no good reason to cut these benefits. Additionally, there is still a lack of jobs for the unemployed. Thankfully, the pandemic is easing and vaccinations are greatly increasing, but it will take time for many businesses to recover, and until we have a more full economic recovery, the number of unemployed is still high and they need those Federal benefits.